The Arty Semite

How Ernst Kantorowicz Escaped The Nazis

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of Frankfurt am Main City Archive
Ernst Kantorowicz circa 1930.

The historian Ernst Kantorowicz, born to a German Jewish family in present-day Poznań, is remembered for such magisterial studies as “The King’s Two Bodies,” still available from Princeton University Press and a study of King Frederick the Second.

Kantorowicz’s dramatic life has also attracted attention, from service in World War I to his escape from the Nazis, as recounted in Alain Boureau’s “Histoires d’un historien: Kantorowicz” from Les editions Gallimard, published in English translation in 2001 from The Johns Hopkins University Press as “Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian.”

Yet few readers of books by and about Kantorowicz will fully understand how he survived with war without reading the eminent British historian Leslie Mitchell’s definitive “Maurice Bowra: A Life,” out in paperback in 2010 from Oxford University Press.

Mitchell explains how Kantorowicz was stuck in Germany in fall, 1938. Bowra, a gay Oxford classicist of renowned sedentariness (indeed, a sculpted bronze memorial of Bowra at Oxford transforms him into an armchair., hurried to Germany to rescue Kantorowicz. Thereafter, “one way or another, Kantorowicz believed that Bowra had saved his life,” Mitchell writes, by intervening with authorities.

Kantorowicz was allowed to immigrate to America, where he ended his distinguished career at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Mitchell explains Bowra’s motivation for this valiant assistance: “as friend, and possibly as lover, [Kantorowicz] had enriched Bowra’s life.” Based on his research, Mitchell reiterates that Bowra and Kantorowicz “may, at some point, have been lovers,” based on surviving correspondence and the fact that they met when Kantorowicz was one of the Jewish flock of devotees in the homoerotic circle of German poet Stefan George, a group within a group which also included the poet Karl Wolfskehl and philosopher Kurt Riezler.

Bowra’s memoirs, originally published by Harvard University Press, describe young Kantorowicz as “lithe, yet of masculine firmness, sophisticated, elegant in dress, gesture, and speech.” Even while trapped in Nazi Germany, Kantorowicz kept up a flirting correspondence with Bowra, responding when the classicist sent him a photo of himself as a youth by declaring how Bowra “must have been extremely handsome in your ‘buggerable’ days.”

When Kantorowicz died in 1963, there were three photographs beside his bed: his father, Bowra, and Stefan George. On hearing of his demise, Bowra wrote to their mutual friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, to praise Kantorowicz as a “real mensch,” adding that Kantorowicz “stirred my intelligence, bolstered my morale, amused me with dazzling paradoxes and intuitions and formulations.”

Read some of Kantorowicz’s letters (some of them displaying a fairly racy sense of humor and other writings, at a website set up by one of Kantorowicz’s graduate students, the historian Ralph E. Giesey.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Alain Boureau, Ernst Kantorowicz, Leslie Mitchell, Maurice Bowra, Ralph E. Giesey

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.